[The following is a panel discussion in four rounds on the topic of "Pagan Clergy," which was published in our magazine, FireHeart, between 1988 and 1993. Some twenty years later, many people throughout the U.S. pagan movement continue to refer to it as a source of stimulating, provocative, and even prescient ideas which remain relevant for our community today. Since we still often get requests asking for reprints of the panel, we are making it available here for greater accessibility; please keep in mind that this piece --- as is true of all the reprints from our publications --- remains under copyright protection, and that all pertinent limitations still apply. The panelists' bios have not been updated, and as a result some of them may no longer be accurate; we chose to retain their original texts because they are germane to the contents of the discussions.]
PANEL DISCUSSION: PAGAN CLERGY
In the Pagan community, becoming a member of the "clergy" depends largely on the dictates and requirements of individual traditions. Pagan priests and priestesses often receive training in such things as ritual, raising and grounding energy, experiencing the ecstatic, and opening to the sacred aspects of nature -- subjects not ordinarily found in the curricula of mainstream seminaries. But the breadth and depth of instruction can vary enormously from one tradition to another. Training usually takes place through an apprenticeship, which can last from a few brief meetings to study over several years, and then initiation.
Rarely, however do Pagan priests and priestesses undergo any formal training in theology, comparative religion, counseling or group dynamics, and almost never within the context of an accredited educational institution. This dearth of rigorous academic training is seen by some people as the major cause of Paganism's lack of credibility in mainstream religious circles. They feel we should begin to meet the standards to which mainstream clergy are subject -- that those very standards test the commitment and suitability of potential clergy, and give them the necessary training and credentials to serve a growing Pagan laity.
On the other hand, the very lack of a commonly held dogma and hierarchical structure has attracted many people to Paganism. The freedom to create their own rituals and to believe what they choose within the context of Paganism's loosely defined tenets is important to them. They feel Paganism's philosophy of immanent deity means that each individual is innately priest or priestess, and the quality of "priesthood" cannot be acquired by receiving a degree or earning credentials.
Furthermore, many Pagans dislike the idea of highly structured, academic training. Such training is often limited to those able to take the time and pay the exorbitant costs of education. They feel that academic training, with its bestowal of titles and degrees, may foster a "better than thou" attitude among its adherents, and that clergy trained in these ways inevitably seek to mediate between the worshipers and the worshipped.
We asked our panel members to comment on these different points of view and to share their own.
Sam Webster: Gee, in times like these, it's great to be a 'mage'. (Everyone else has managed to say something like this -- I guess it's my turn.) My rhetoric, however, seems to be getting in the way. Somehow Isaac has drawn interesting and definitive conclusions about my position. Excuse me, Isaac, but until now, I have been firmly straddling the fence, and knocking me off before I am ready is just likely to hurt. My purpose until now has been to elicit from the panel, myself included, the questions necessary to form a picture of what we are faced with.
I see that we are faced with the problems of a growing religion, one that does not come complete from the start with clergy. But now, having existed for long enough, we have the task of educating the next generation of incomers, and our methods are not wholly adequate to the task. The small circle apprenticeship approach will cover many things, but many things demanded by the problem of large groups of unacculturated folk at festivals are not so covered. Nor are covered the demands of organized thought. If our craft is to develop, we need to invest in it over the long haul, a century or so, so that it may have the time to learn from itself and what other sources it can find. How are we to endure?
Sorry folks, we are an institution, although highly polymorphous, with customs and ways of our own. The question becomes, are we willing to take responsibility for making it conscious? Contrary to Isaac's interpretation of my words, I have nothing against institutions. My only question is, are we willing to do the work -- to make the investment -- to create our own institutions, consciously created to conform with our ideals? (And stop thinking of one monolithic organization. That's the trap of either/or dogmatism. We handle plurality -- that is our strength. But can we learn to ally ourselves to take advantage of it? That doesn't require homogeneity or authoritarian structures.) We, in fact, have several, if not many, institutions -- formal and informal, but institutions nonetheless. Among them are COG, the EarthSpirit Community, ADF, Circle, and NECTW. These are the organizational structures whereby Paganism articulates itself. But have they created an institutional infrastructure that will last and serve the community for which they were formed for the next 20, 50, or 100 years? Are any of them willing to make the commitment to?
It is most fortuitous to be writing this response after reading the interview with Doreen Valiente. If we want to look to our elders for advice, there is surely a source of wisdom and experience. I find her voice one of deeply practical sanity.
Two points I would like to lift out of the interview. First is the issue of paid clergy. To the statement, "people feel you shouldn't involve money in our religion," Doreen Valiente responded: "That's all very well if you can afford to do it." She goes on to ask how, if someone invests all their time teaching classes, will they live if they do not accept money for their services. Not doing so will limit the Craft to being "exclusively the playground of the rich," an essentially classist problem.
So how do we deal with this? Given the structures outlined in, for example, Andras's scheme of three groups of ten people meeting three hours weekly at $20 per week, yielding an annual income of $30,000, the question could then be asked, who is in a position to see if this method works? Of course, not everyone would have to engage in this or any other experiment. Of those on this panel, Judy and Oriethyia are unwilling, and I am currently not in a position to attempt such. Both Isaac and Andras, however, are in the right position in the community to attempt to become paid Pagan clergy. They both have created the institutional structures necessary to function as clergy. Now, can it be done?
I think it should be evident from my actions, if not my fence-straddling arguments, that I am in favor of a paid Pagan clergy. After all, I am working the academic path to that status. The difference with me is that, not expecting Pagans to "hire" me, I hope the Unitarian Universalists will, as a Pagan minister. This is because Pagans traditionally have spoken against the notion of a paid clergy. Are they willing to change and support full-time clergy? Or will a handful dedicate themselves to the task and to poverty? As for myself, so long as the community remains as it does now, I'll be a full-time professional minister and an "amateur" Pagan priest.
The main difference I see between paid clergy and unpaid clergy is cash flow. There can be a real difference in the training one may receive between full-time and part-time dedication to any body of learning. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but both have the same inherent value. One may simply serve better under one of these circumstances than the other. What I feel we are facing is the shift from one method of training that is mostly adequate to the task to another that serves better overall.
One of the problems we are up against is the problem of who determines the criteria that make a Pagan cleric. If we look at how the medical profession developed, we can get a hint of what not to do.
The Flexner report, published in 1905, made a study of the appalling conditions in American medical schools. The author of the report, however, was a classically educated Anglo male whose observations and recommendations were heavily biased by his culture. In effect, his report led to the shutting down of many of the country's medical schools, but the ones chosen to remain open were those attached to the university system, such as Harvard and Yale. Those shut down were the ones for Blacks, women, homeopaths, naturopaths, midwives, herbalists -- those that did not fit the paradigm of the people creating and responding to the report. Obviously the danger is in beginning this kind of process with too many preconceived notions. What, then, are our needs?
The second issue I wanted to raise from the Doreen Valiente interview is the function of the coven paradigm. She is ambiguous as to whether it is adequate to the task, speaking both for and against it. She does, however, ask key questions about how we are to provide for the education of the next generation of Pagans and if we will learn to provide support for folk in our communities. The coven has family-style support built into it, but is this the organizational structure we are always going to use? If the influx of new folk remains as heavy as currently reported, it may well not. If Andras's description of the state of the Pagan community's training is an accurate assessment of at least a significant portion of the community (particularly the newcomers) -- and my experience of the Southern California community bears this out -- then we have a task before us that we cannot ignore -- a task that our previously used methods are not handling. Again, what are we to do?
A word about that "influx." Judy states that part of the reason the larger festivals have become unmanageable is because of the folk attracted to them by public advertising. Sorry, the bell cannot be unrung. As she also pointed out, "Mother Earth is in desperate trouble." We are probably the only "faith" that is pro-cosmic and pro-somatic (the world and the body are inherently good things and not to be avoided, and that the better place is not elsewhere). Not even the Buddhists can make that claim. Nor is it a culturally bound religion like the Native American or Australian aboriginal tradition, pro-cosmic or anti-cosmic as they may be. Therefore, I suggest we are the only "faith-tradition" that, from its core, can teach a way of life on this Earth in true stewardship of our planet and that is cosmopolitan enough to reach beyond our limited cultural horizons.
While I don't think proselytization is the way to go, we still have a responsibility to find a way 1) to show that the pro-cosmic, pro-somatic stance is necessary to the continuance of human life on this planet, and 2) to make ourselves accessible to those who would adopt this attitude, in whatever numbers they come to us. No easy task, but structurally, this is part of what lies before us.
So what models are we going to use, what organizational structures? Except for one brief mention of our Hindu colleagues, our entire discussion about Pagan clergy has been within the paradigm of the Western Christian minister. Is this the role model we want? It may be repellent to a Pagan to contemplate Christian theology, but we could, in theory, appropriate their method of ministry and make it more effective in this culture. But I think Judy and Oriethyia present their strongest arguments when they speak against the kind of process the ministerial folk represent. I doubt we wish to adopt that process.
Are we, then, really looking to the right source? Christians are so different from us. They have a book religion based in observance of custom and ethos. Ours is ecstatic, changing, filled with ritual and polyvalent symbols. We get up and dance and hoot and holler and expect to get somewhere with it all. Who else does this?
Well, the Hindus for one. They worship in an entirely different manner from Christians, and much like ourselves. They seek to dwell in sacred space, performing ritual/symbolic actions and expecting results. How do they organize their temples in the US? How do they clothe and feed their priests? We could get very distracted by focusing on the "patriarchal" aspects of Hinduism, but Hindus at least have the sense to realize that their object of worship is a symbol and not the divine itself. These folk who have idols, oddly, don't commit idolatry. Christians, with their idolized dogma, do. Hindus don't demand that you believe anything in particular. They never developed the creedal form that became responsible for the deaths of so many in the West. With very few exceptions, you find no holy wars in Indian history. Hindus worship many gods and can live and worship together at their many altars. Is this not similar to our ideal?
And what of our Caribbean, South American, and African colleagues, many of whom are functioning in the US? They specifically expect trance. They drum and chant better then we do, and they get results. They may not be of our culture; we may not want to be them, but how do they function? How do they make and maintain their congregations? I suspect they have something real to offer that we could appropriate.
Andras Corban Arthen: Once upon a time there was a house. A small house. A very nice house, by most accounts. The people who built this house were the friendly sort, so they decided to take the outside doors off the hinges, and let in anyone who felt like coming by.
And come by they did. People of all kinds noticed this house, were attracted by its welcoming atmosphere, and went right in, settling with their families into the many small, homey rooms. In time, many families lived there, and, despite their different backgrounds, they all pretty much agreed on the house policies and lived happily in their nice, cooperative house. And so it went for many years, a happy little house.
Time passed, however, and more and more people heard about the house. They traveled from near and far to find this welcoming place in the hope of finding a home for themselves. Because the house had no doors, they could get in quite easily, and so the house became very crowded.
One day, some of the earliest tenants of the house (who belonged to a family called the Clergs) came out of their rooms to find that their nice little home was now crammed with people, and they became very alarmed.
"Look," they said to their friends the Cozies, "our house has gotten much too crowded. There are people sleeping on the rugs, people hanging from the rafters, people in line to use the toilets. Where are we going to fit them all?"
And the Cozies said, "We have a problem, all right. How about if we just let these people in a little at a time so we don't get so crowded?"
"It's too late for that," said the Clergs. "The place is so crowded already that we can't even get to the doors anymore. Some people are climbing through the windows, and there are thousands of others all around the house just waiting for a chance to get in."
"How about if we squeeze them into the other rooms in the house?", said the Cozies.
"Can't do it," replied the Clergs. "All the rooms we have are already very full. And look, all these people crowded in our home don't know the house policies -- they're leaving dirty dishes, they're breaking the furniture, they're peeing in the flower pots...."
"We can't have them peeing in the flowerpots!," said the Cozies. "How about if we teach them the policies one by one, as is our custom?"
"We could do that with a few of them," said the Clergs, "but not with all of them. There are too many -- it would take forever. We have a proposal to make, though, and we think it'll work. We Clergs know a thing or two about building houses, and we've lived here long enough to know the house policies, and we care about our families a whole lot. So, we could take it upon ourselves to build additions to the house to fit more people in; or we could build more houses next to this one and start a neighborhood. We could help the new people to learn the house policies, and maybe help all of us to come up with some new policies as we get bigger. We could build more toilets so people don't have to pee in the flowerpots."
"Nothing doing. If we let you do that, next thing you know you'll be acting like you own the house and start telling the rest of us what to do. Pretty soon, you'Il want to mediate for us with the people down at City Hall. Besides, if you expand the house, you'll change the character of our home. We won't have our cozy little rooms any more. We like it cozy, you know," said the Cozies.
"We're trying to do no such thing," cried the Clergs. "We've just grown too big for a little house with little rooms -- we need to build a neighborhood. You can stay in your cozy rooms if you like, but look around you: the walls are bulging, the beams are creaking, the joists are sagging. If we don't do something soon, the entire house may come crashing down on our heads! Look, we're willing to do the work. All we're asking for is a little cooperation, a decent salary..."
"Salary?!", exclaimed the Cozies. "You expect to get paid for this? We take care of our families for free! That's the way it's always been in this house!"
"Sure it is," said the Clergs, "but it's a very different thing when you're trying to take care of a neighborhood. Your families are small. The neighborhood is much larger -- hundreds or thousands of people, many of them with no family. It's going to take a lot of work and effort to create this neighborhood. We're willing to do the work, but we need to get paid a decent wage so that we, too, can take care of our families."
So here we are, a house divided by some fundamentally different perspectives of who we are, of how we should be -- a house divided between adherence to the patterns we created as we began, and the need to adopt different patterns as we mature, as our numbers grow.
Judy's statement in Round Two that "Uncontrolled growth also threatens us indirectly by becoming the latest pretext for those who want us to institute an elite class of paid clergy" is offensive in its implication that those of us who disagree with her views are insincere and have ulterior motives. The rampant growth of our community is not a pretext for anything; it is, rather, the single most compelling reason for having full-time, professional Pagan clergy. While Judy obviously agrees that our growth rate is a problem, she does not suggest any reasonable, workable strategies to solve it.
Judy thinks that we should grow at a sustainable rate, that we "assimilate just so many newcomers at a time." Just how does she propose we do this? Does she for one moment believe that the entire Pagan community would agree to such a thing, and then be willing and able to monitor itself to ensure the enforcement of this agreement? Does she think that we should stop publication of all Pagan journals and books, close down all the festivals, dismantle all the networks, cancel all the classes, and shut down all the stores for a few years while we all collectively agree on a quota for allowing new members into the community? It would take nothing short of this scenario to stem the flow of new Pagans and, needless to say, this scenario is not about to be enacted.
Judy thinks that we should assimilate newcomers by funneling them into small groups "where their learning will be monitored." I am presuming, given her emphasis on preserving and raising our community standards, that she is talking about stable groups with a fair degree of experience, led by people of demonstrable skill in "monitoring." I have no argument with this, except to ask, where are these groups and teachers going to come from? In my experience, the most solid, substantial groups in our community are already over-flowing with members, and the most experienced teachers, leaders, and organizers have their hands more than full.
I don't think Judy is being very fair in her assertion that the problems which have arisen at large Pagan festivals are traceable to the greed of the organizers who, in trying to make a buck, engaged in "public advertising," which made the festivals "unmanageably large." I have organized twenty-six large Pagan festivals in the past fifteen years. I also know and have compared notes with many other festival organizers. I don't know a single one who is motivated exclusively, or even primarily, by financial considerations. Yes, some of us make money from these festivals -- it is about the only way that we can continue to put them on year after year, and, to my knowledge, none of us are getting rich at it. I don't think that any of us would put financial considerations above the integrity of a festival.
For instance, in 1989, our Rites of Spring festival numbered almost 700 participants, almost a third of whom were very new to Paganism. We had several problems that year, due not so much to sheer size as to the fact that the core community of the festival could not assimilate such a high percentage of new people, many of whom clearly did not fit in with the energy of the gathering. For the past two years, we have limited Rites of Spring to 450 people in an effort to consolidate our core community. In so doing, we have managed to keep the number of new people to a reasonable size, and have been able to resolve most of the problems that existed.
In limiting the number of participants, however, we have lost between $40,000 and $50,000 in potential income over the past two years, a certain percentage of which would have been actual profit. When you consider that about a third of my family's very modest income comes from the profits of this festival, you can readily understand that we have taken a substantial personal loss for the sake of the festival's integrity. Many festival organizers deal with similar issues all the time. Judy should really consider running a large Pagan festival for several years before making assumptions about how they're run or about the motives of their organizers.
If anything, the festivals have become so large because it is very difficult for the organizers to draw a firm line regarding attendance. The drawing of such a line automatically excludes people, and festival organizers, like probably most Pagans, don't like to be exclusionary. As Judy rightfully asserts, we should be wary of a professional Pagan clergy degenerating into an elite caste. It strikes me, however, that some of the attitudes she espouses regarding newcomers can very easily lead to an elitism of the old-timers.
Judy addresses the meaning of professional vs. amateur, and the "connotation that the amateur athlete or musician or priestess is somehow not as dedicated, not as skilled, and just plain not as good." I think it's difficult to gauge dedication. If we look around, however, we will notice that, generally, professionals in any given field are measurably more skilled than amateurs, quite simply because professionals, by virtue of making their living full-time in their particular fields, are able to develop a level of skill through constant practice that amateurs, who are only able to work at it part-time, can't usually match.
As Isaac has already noted, Judy succumbs to the same dualist "culturally formed habits of mind" that she warns us about. Judy assumes that amateurs serve only for love, or out of "a sense of calling and dedication," while professionals "serve ulteriorly" (i.e., they're only doing it for the money). I very much disagree. We all know, in our community, amateur clergy who serve "ulteriorly." Not for money, perhaps, but for notoriety, for self-serving manipulation, for sexual gratification, or for the enhancement of their own fragile egos. We also have among our ranks a number of professional clergy who serve primarily because of a deep sense of love for the Old Ones, for our community, and for the work itself that they do. It is out of this sense of love and dedication, out of this real vocation to service, that they feel the need to commit themselves full-time to their clergy work. In the greedy, utilitarian, self-serving society that we live in, the concept of people wanting to serve primarily out of love or vocation is commonly met with a great deal of cynicism. This cynicism is an example of what Judy calls "our indoctrination in the culture of domination." We are better off without it.
I have one more bone to pick with Judy. In Round One, while addressing the concept of a "religion of clergy," I presented the example of two "priestesses" -- one of whom had much longer standing and experience than the other -- and suggested that it was highly misleading to refer to them equally and unqualifiedly as "clergy." Judy replies by affirming that "Presently, we regard all initiates as equal" (well, perhaps she does) and invokes the exception rather than the rule. She suggests that the newer witch "may be full of enthusiastic dedication" while the older one "may be a burn-out case who now wants 'compensation' for what once was her delight," and proposes that the older priestess find a place "not on the payroll, but in honorable retirement."
Let me add my own maybes to Judy's. Maybe the younger priestess is full of enthusiasm -- not so much for the Craft but for her own aggrandized self-image in calling herself a witch despite her lack of any solid background. Maybe she's going to burn out a lot sooner than the older one, because her lack of knowledge, skill and experience is going to overwhelm her when she gets in over her head while coasting along on the false sense of security and empowerment instilled by the fact that someone with very loose standards initiated her too quickly.
Maybe the older priestess has a lot more to give than she even has thus far. Maybe she's not burnt out at all, but has reached a place where her thirty years of experience and proven commitment have matured into some powerful and innovative teachings. Maybe she would really like to share these with the community at large, except that she's a single mother in her fifties with three high-school-aged kids and can barely make ends meet. Maybe, if she could get paid a decent salary to teach, she would be able to quit her full-time job and make her wealth of knowledge available to the community, while being able to take care of her family. Maybe, in such a scenario, she would have the time to write that book that's been inside her all these years. Maybe the entire Pagan community would benefit a great deal.
Except that Judy would compel her into premature retirement. "That sounds like gross ageism," mulls Judy, and she's quite right. That's exactly what it is. Ever wonder where the elders in the Pagan movement are? Look in the discard pile.
We're a very young community. Most of our "elders" are people who are now in their 40s and 50s, who have been in the Craft some twenty to thirty years. Most of them started in their early 20s, and with a great deal of enthusiasm and vision, juggled their lives to lay the foundations of what we currently are, of what we are becoming. Many of these peopIe, however, found that when they reached their 30s and 40s, the juggling act became increasingly more difficult and risky: when many of the balls you have up in the air affect your immediate survival and that of your family, guess which balls you're most likely to drop first? Quite a few of these people, then, made choices that took them away from important clergy roles in the Pagan community. It is our loss that they made those choices. Had they been able to devote themselves full-time to their Pagan activities, while making a decent and reasonably secure living at it, I think many of them would have remained active in the community.
Every society of people, as it grows in size, organically develops more complex ways of interacting within itself. Such greater complexity inevitably requires different and greater skills, at least from certain members of the society. The elders of the community are generally the ones in the best position to oversee its growth and development, because they are usually the ones with the most experience and skill. That way, the community grows in a sustainable way because it has sustainers; the garden grows healthy and well-tended because it has skilled gardeners. Paradoxically, as the Pagan community grows in size and as our need for experienced leaders increases, we tend to lose our elders to burnout and to life and career choices that take them away from service in the community.
Sam presents us with some of the most cogent reasons why we should have professional Pagan clergy: 1) to enable us to interact better and cooperate with other religions; 2) to gain a certain credibility that would give us access to the discussions on religious issues that mostly engage mainstream religions; 3) to enable us to endure and persevere as a religion; 4) to enable us to transcend the "Wicca 101 mentality" and "develop a stronger practical and theoretical basis for our work"; and 5) to develop a coherent and tangibie way for us to pass on what we have learned to future generations.
Incredibly, however, Sam doesn't think that the Pagan community should support its own professional clergy. Rather, he suggests that those of us inclined to full-time religious service "infiltrate" other, more mainstream religions that already provide such clergy support. This strikes me as being extremely ill-conceived, not to mention dishonest. It makes no sense to me that some of the most experienced and skilled members of the Pagan community should have to go outside their religion to attain credibility and to be supported by a different spiritual community. I, for one, have no desire to "engage the mainstream religious community in their own conversation" by presenting the acceptable facade of a Unitarian minister who, parenthetically, also happens to be a Pagan and a witch.
We will not be taken seriously by the mainstream religions until we take ourselves seriously. And we are not taking ourselves seriously enough -- we're not giving ourselves enough credit -- if we think that we have to use false pretenses to gain mainstream acceptance. Is Sam really saying that Pagans aren't good enough -- can never be good enough -- to be accepted by the mainstream religions on our own terms?
In Round One, Oriethyia makes some persuasive arguments about why we should not care about being legitimized by the mainstream religions. Unfortunately, she overlooks the most important and overriding argument about why we should care, why that kind of credibility should be important to us. The mainstream religions, as Sam reminds us, have a virtual monopoly on the discussion of religious issues in our society. It is important that Pagans gain admission to those conversations for two main reasons:
First, the credibility thus gained could go a long way to eliminate some of the misconceptions and prejudices that have beleaguered us for so long. If a fundamentalist preacher tries to stir people up with warnings about "Witches and Satanists," and an interfaith council of clergy goes to the media with a statement that they know us, that we're members of their council, that they've been to our circles and we've been to their services, and that we are a bona fide religion, the weight of such an endorsement would nullify most fanatical allegations.
Second, and most important, we as Pagans need to begin to address social and environmental issues from our particular spiritual perspective. Potentially, our spiritual community could have a lot to say on any number of such topics, if given the chance. Pagan perspectives on the environmental crisis, minority religions, abortion rights, drug use and abuse, prejudice, the role of women as clergy, and issues relating to social justice and the attainment of world peace, for example, would add considerably to ecumenical religious discussions on these subjects.
Last year I was invited to be the Pagan representative at a United Nations interfaith conference to address the role of religion in eliminating prejudice. The panel also included a representative each from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, and one panelist representing atheism. The Christian representative said, in effect, that he didn't know what constructive suggestions Christianitv could offer to such a discussion, since Christianity was responsible for a great deal of the prejudice existing in the world. He proposed, rather, that Christians listen to and learn from other religious communities, especially Nature-oriented peoples such as Native Americans and Pagans.
The clergy of other religions are, in many cases, quite willing to listen to what we have to say. The challenge that they offer us -- and the question that we should be asking ourselves -- is: what do we have to say? What do Pagans, as a Nature-centered spiritual community, have of value to offer to the rest of the world? What models, what perspectives, what answers can we provide to address the religious, moral and social issues that other religions constantly grapple with?
Ironically, while many mainstream clergy of my acquaintance are more than willing to take us seriously, they frequently perceive us as not taking ourselves seriously enough. They question our commitment to our own beliefs and ideals; they question our willingness to translate our beliefs into action; they question our stability; they question our permanence.
Undoubtedly, as Oriethyia suggests, many of these people raise such questions because they simply can't understand us, because we don't fit their frame of reference. However, to blithely dismiss their criticisms as being uninformed or narrow-minded is fair neither to them nor to us. Our willingness as a community to support full-time Pagan clergy is not simply a selling out to patriarchal, oppressive, Euro-centric mainstream religious values, as Oriethyia fears. It is, rather, an organic and natural path for us to take as our community grows in size and complexity and as our need for more skilled practitioners, teachers, leaders and organizers increases. Historically, a great many (perhaps most) cultures throughout the world have supported people in full-time religious service. The support of professional Pagan clergy by our community is not just a way for us to gain credibility with the mainstream religions, along with the benefits and responsibilities that such credibility entails. It is also -- in a very tangible way -- a concrete step toward the maturation of the Pagan movement.
Oriethyia, Judy and Sam warn us with great concern about the potential problems and abuses inherent in developing a professional Pagan clergy. We should listen to their warnings carefully, and we should strive to make sure that these abuses don't take place. I am puzzled, however, by the implication in their arguments that because such abuses are a real possibility, they must, of necessity, happen. Are they suggesting that human nature is so incontrovertibly corrupt that any Pagans who find themselves in professional clergy positions have no choice but to act out their deepest, darkest lusts for power and greed? Are they implying that the Pagan community is so naive and weak-willed that it has no choice but to accept such abuses if they were to happen? If so, they are seriously underestimating us all.
Oriethyia: Sam wants Pagan clergy to have clout, to be able to hold their own in political and spiritual congress with the clergy of mainstream religions. I have already said that with enough time and money, I would also be in school studying, in part, comparative religion, mysticism and so forth. But Sam and I will continue to disagree on the necessity of such an education in order to effectively engage mainstream clergy on issues that are in contention. My reasons are detailed in the first round of this discussion, so I will not repeat them here. Anyone with the resources necessary to such an education should surely engage in both the study and the discussions; but I don't think that either has anything inherently to do with Pagan clergy.
I've long believed that, beyond a certain point, it is useless to argue with folks who do not, or will not, understand what you are about. At that point, it is best to simply go off and continue to do what you do. If you (the Wiccan/Pagan community and its members) do it well enough, folks will start knocking on your door with a vested interest in listening: they want to know how to have the same fun, spiritual experiences, insight, calm in a crisis, or whatever, that you seem to have. That's when you go on to the next stage of the "discussion." That is, of course, already happening, as the other panelists have pointed out, among the liberal and progressive branches of mainstream traditions. And Judy is correct in her statement that, as to the highly fundamentalist traditions, there's not a thing we can say or do that will make a difference.
Isaac surprised me on a few counts, seeing dualisms where there were none. Both Judy and I accentuated the negatives of academic education and the benefits of other types of learning. Neither of us was setting up a "formal education is bad / apprenticeship is good" dualism. We both assumed (and Judy will correct me if I am speaking incorrectly for her) that anyone involved in this discussion, as writer or as reader, knows full well the many benefits of academic training. There was absolutely no need to reiterate them. We both chose to articulate those aspects of "education," academic and otherwise, that are too seldom considered.
Isaac again misunderstands the point when he suggests that my retelling the story of the Australian feminist Witches is a red herring. He asks, "Are we really to believe that the women would have all died if one or more of them had been an academically trained priestess?"
Excuse me? I cannot even imagine how one draws that assumption from the information I gave. My point was, and is, that their political/cthonic/feminist training was more than sufficient to get them through that life-threatening situation, and that the lack of academic or traditional coven training did not get them killed.
I maintain, regardless of Isaac's disagreement, that the idea of formalized clergy training is, indeed, Eurocentric. Yes, "Native American, African, Polynesian and European Paleopagans all had clergy of different levels of training... and differing amounts of 'pay'." But that training was in the apprenticeship, not the academic, tradition. The "trainees" did not take themselves off to some place with other trainees for four or more years, separate from the people and the environment and the specific culture in which they were to do their work. Again, this is not to argue that none of us should seek academic training, only that it is not inherently necessary.
As to pay, the earlier shamans, medicine folk, and wise ones were paid for the services they rendered as they rendered them. Indeed, many African-American clergy in the Orisha traditions today make a full-time living (that took years to build) doing precisely such service to groups and individuals in their communities. I am not aware of one that gets a regular income from being clergy; rather, they are paid (in offerings or barter or fees) for the specific work that they do.
Isaac and Andras both err when they assume that Judy, Sam and I all work in small groups and so draw all of our experience from that universe. Most of the work that I have done has been in large groups -- gatherings that range from 25 to 1,500 women, sometimes in women's centers, sometimes taking up an entire hillside. And while I am most at home leading a ritual for about 300 wild women, there is absolutely no way to adequately teach anything in-depth to 300 people at a time for an extended period of time. You can do the occasional massive workshop, but any ongoing, meaningful teaching is going to happen in much smaller groups. Large workings or gatherings are great for experiencing the lessons learned in the small group, or for having experiences that will be discussed or shared in the smaller group. But the baseline for teaching is going to be in the one-to-one or one-to-several setting. This is not simply dogma or personal experience; it is also fact.
Isaac is absolutely right when he says that the core issue in this entire discussion is how to provide our diverse "community with the kind of religious support and experiences" they want and need, and Judy further clarifies it by giving us a definition of "professional" that has to do with skill, competence, dedication and service, and nothing, necessarily, to do with money.
Andras articulates beautifully the problems that come with the "boom" years of any movement: the instant experts, the dilution of wisdom and ethics and the core of the spirit and its practices. Certainly one-to-one apprenticeships can't get us collectively very far very fast. But ongoing classes for several to several dozen people can provide for the newcomer and the continuing seeker. Now that takes an enormous amount of time and energy, particularly if you are already trying to maintain a job and a healthy partnership and, especially, are parenting. Little folks certainly need the benefits of a balanced economic environment, but they also need adults, parents, who are not so overtaxed and stressed that the child learns to stuff her own needs because the parent cannot meet them, or learns that overwork is what work looks like.
This is not a problem particular to Witches or Pagans. Serious, committed members -- clergy, if you will -- of the civil rights, women's liberation, gay rights, Native American rights, and disabled rights movements have all faced, and still do face, the same dilemma. The more committed we are, the more we are aware of what needs to be done; the more we want to spend all our time doing the thousand things that need doing. That usually translates into trying to make a decent living at something to do with the cause or issue in question (and I use those words decidedly, gently and with great respect). If some of us can make a full-time living by teaching classes at various levels, taking on apprentices, doing readings, offering counseling, creating rituals and officiating at same, mazel tov! If there are enough folks in a given geographical area that want to pay a full-time clergyperson a salary on the assumption that said clergy will do all of the many services above, then so be it. The problems some of us have already articulated will surely crop up. It will be incumbent upon that clergy and his/her "congregation" to call one another on bad moves, and to struggle together as highly problematic economic questions arise.
Andras offers his work as an example of some of the issues we are dancing around. I appreciate that. As I look at the long list of services he performs (and knowing Andras, performs fully and well), I am struck by how such an overloaded schedule and bundle of responsibilities would necessarily keep the service provider from getting much rest or much money. Someone with a schedule like that, trying to make a living at being clergy, would need to refocus her/his energy and make some priority decisions. If this clergyperson wants to focus on teaching, she/he should do that primarily. By cutting out some of the other tasks, more time is made available to teach more classes, perform more direct services, and probably provide a better income. For example, Andras, what the hell are you doing making sure there are enough paper cups for the coffeehouse and enough money for FireHeart? Delegate, brother, delegate! If the argument is that "if you don't do it, it won't get done," then shame on the other folks involved for not taking enough responsibility, on you for not delegating it, and on all of you for not getting enough other folks involved. If it really comes down to the fact that there are simply not enough people interested in doing the necessary work, then maybe the understaffed project has to fold. I do not say this flippantly. In this case, I would be heartbroken to hear that either FireHeart or the coffeehouse had ceased to exist. But I have seen, far too often, the resuIt of a small group trying to change their corner of the world by doing everything necessary... until most or all of them burn out completely.
"Clergy" who want to make a living at their Craft and can do so teaching, must teach. The one who is most suited to counseling should counsel. The tasks are not mutually exclusive, and there is certainly room for a mix. But it must be a mix that is sustainable by the Witch in question and that will not throw her/his life and family out of balance.
There are many of us who would like to see year-round sacred space available for seasonal celebrations, community gatherings, workshops and apprenticeship programs. And there are centers like that, some New Age, some Wiccan or Pagan. Running one is incredibly hard work, if you are being conscientious about it, and if a Witch wants to run such a center then she/he should do so.
There are ways to make your living full-time from the Craft work as an elder or teacher. None of them are easy. None of them are likely to be attained in just a few years.
As I look back on the original charge put before this panel, I see that it focuses not on paid clergy but on appropriate training for someone who acts as clergy. The members of this panel, all of whom can legitimately call themselves elders and clergy both, have varied backgrounds, training and experience. I trust that variety of experience, and I distrust any dogmatic decrees that we all need to get to elder status and to teach and lead by any one style or route. Let the academically inclined go back to school, and with our blessings. Let the wild women howl on the mountainside, reweaving the webs of creation by the wisdom of the stories of their sisters'lives. Let the coven leaders continue the vital work of creating and maintaining traditions. There is all this work to do. And more. We need the best in each of us, doing what we each most love and do best.
Isaac Bonewits: I'd like to start off this round by repeating the topics I mentioned near the end of my Round Two offering as being critical to any clear discussion of the issues:
Size of Congregation: How large does a group have to be before having professional clergy becomes an issue?
Breadth of Training: How many areas of knowledge and skill, magical and mundane, should a Neopagan clergy-person be expected to be familiar with?
Depth of Training: How much should she or he know about, or be able to do, in each of those areas?
Time: How many hours per week is it reasonable to expect someone to put into leading a Neopagan group?
Money: How much is appropriate for a Neopagan clergyperson to receive in the way of salary or reimbursement?
All of these topics can be viewed as continuous spectrums (from zero to high in value) and each interacts with the others in varying ways, some of which we've already discussed in the first two rounds. Before I continue, however, I'd like to suggest that we enlarge our discussion a bit to the topic of Neopagan leadership in general; our community needs a great deal more than just competent clergy. We need competent healers, counselors, diviners, jurists, scholars, and bards. These are all roles that can be distributed throughout a given congregation, as well as being ones for which advanced training and a heavy time load are common.
I was blown away by Andras's courage in saying in print what so many Neopagans have been complaining about in private for years: our community, like many others, is filled with phonies and half-baked "experts." For fifty years, we've suffered under a "gentlemen's agreement" not to call each other on our claims. The very idea of verifying someone's boasts has been considered intolerant, patriarchal, "old Aeon" thinking. Stroking each others'egos has helped to prevent us from gaining the knowledge and skills we need to accomplish the goals we so proudly proclaim.
It was the awareness that clergy in our community weren't the only ones in need of broad, in-depth training and standards of competence that led ADF to add such non-clergy leadership specialties to our originally clergy-focused training prograrn -- a step I fully expect other Neopagan groups to take in the future. In the meantime, including non-clergy community specialists and leaders in our discussion here may help us all to avoid the "clergy vs. laity" dualism that has dominated much of this discussion previously.
Now, on to a discussion of these topics...
Size of Congregation: There are direct connections between the size of a congregation and its need for competent leadership. Groups of three to fifteen people can get along, as a whole, with leaders of a wide range of competence. Priest/ essly, bardic, jurist/mediation, and scholarly/teaching skills become more important as the size of the congregation increases; once you have fifty or more members, these skills become vital. Counseling, divination, and healing skills, on the other hand, can be critical in even a very small group, if someone happens to need them applied to him/herself.
Of course, in any given situation, we have to ask how the "congregation" in question is defined. This isn't a problem with a typical coven of three to seven members, since everyone knows who is and isn't committed to the group. Once you start doing things like open circles for holidays, the matter gets more complex. ADF, for example, with its 300+ members, is my specific congregation, even though it contains within it several smaller congregations of three to thirty people each. But on both levels, international and local, we have numerous people who read our publications, attend our rituals and other events, ask for our help for counseling, mediation, weddings, child blessings, legal support, etc.), and yet who do not officially join. The EarthSpirit Community could be similarly defined as having 30 to 300 to 3,000 members, depending upon the level of commitment and participation considered, and the same pattern holds for the Church of All Worlds and probably several other groups as well. In addition, Starhawk, Z Budapest, Selena Fox, and others of us who are nationally known can, in one sense, consider the entire Neopagan community to be our "congregation," since we are constantly providing services to people who belong to organizations other than our own (if any).
Leaving that aside for the moment, we must examine (rather than ignore) the growing numbers of people becoming Neopagans. Judy says that we "need to be careful to grow at a sustainable rate. We can only hope to assimilate just so many newcomers at a time." Tooooo late! The hordes of barbarian riffraff aren't just pounding at our gates -- they've already entered our towns and are sauntering through our streets! Her advice on "the" way to assimilate newcomers is based on a fantasy that we have some control over them, that we can pick and choose among the hundreds of thousands (someday millions) of seekers, carefully train the ones we like, and expect the rest to either go away or else to wait patiently until we can get around to them. Is the growing wave of Earth consciousness and Goddess awareness really a "cancer" because we can't fit all of the newcomers into our living rooms? I find that metaphor of hers far more offensive and elitist than any I have ever heard used about the topic.
Over the course of the next couple of decades, we will see an increasing number of local, regional, and national congregations ranging from 100 to 1,000 members. Some large "congregations" will be completely theoretical (such as those in the "Goddess movement," who are often text-based without any communication with the responsible authors) but will still make their demands upon their founders. "Starhawkian" Wicca, for example, may well represent the largest tradition of Feminist Witchcraft in the country, since so many people have read Starhawk's books and decided to start covens based on them. Although she has (last I heard) no organizational structure or network to tie all those people together, they are still collectively her congregation and she has her (time- and money-consuming) responsibilities to them.
Since we can't and shouldn't stop this growth, we must look at the more complex skills needed to run large groups. This is where professionalism comes in.
Breadth and Depth of Training: In many congregations, the people called "clergy" take on several roles simultaneously, including all the leadership specialties I've mentioned, in addition to the ones that most Neopagans think of -- magical and religious services. The larger your congregation is, the more likely you are to have to take on multiple roles, including those unromantic ones listed by Andras in an issue of the EarthSpirit Community Newsletter: volunteer manager, record-keeper, secretary, bookkeeper, fund-raiser, event organizer, etc. Many of these dull roles come under the category of "human resources administration," and are vitally necessary to the success of larger congregations (or nonprofit groups of any sort). Sure, it's nice if you have competent volunteers available to take some of the load, but they're rare. Neopagan leaders of large groups usually wind up doing most of the work themselves and, unfortunatefy, one doesn't get the necessary training in a group of three to fifteen people.
I believe that Neopagan leaders, whether clergy or not, should have in-depth training in a variety of arts, sciences, and skills, only a few of which are usually thought of by the average Neopagan tradition. That's why the ADF study program has many subject tracks, such as health, counseling, communication, natural and social sciences, bardism, movement awareness, philosophy, drama, and human resource administration, in addition to comparative religion, magic, mysticism, liturgy, and other more typical Neopagan training areas. We feel that Neopagan clergy should be able to do anything -- as well or better -- that clergy of any other religion can do.
I have to agree with most of what Sam says about the need for Neopagan clergy to challenge the mainstream religions on their own levels of intellectual intensity. This isn't all that has to be done to make Neopagan world views more effective at changing our global culture, but it is a necessary (if small) part of the overall puzzle. Perhaps more importantly, we need to have access to the knowledge that previous generations of clergy, both Christian and non-Christian, have accumulated. Yet I know that many Neopagans believe Christianity to be so hopelessly corrupt that we pure-minded Neopagans aren't even interested in what they might have to teach us about pastoral counseling techniques, church budgeting, middle- and large-sized group dynamics, or liturgical design.
Obviously, each and every Neopagan tradition will make its own decisions about what its clergy and other leaders should know. However, by 1) having published standards of competence; 2) by insisting on a "paper trail" of credible evidence of demonstrated knowledge and skill (regardless of source); and 3) by creating customs of formal challenges and contests, it's possible for us to expose phonies and incompetents within our community quickly, without interfering with the autonomy of each tradition, and without limiting our clergy to those who can afford college.
Two types of people will object to this approach: members of traditions that place a heavy emphasis on secrecy (although why basic job descriptions should be secret is beyond me), and individuals who feel insecure about their ability to "measure up" to someone else's standards. Secrecy-oriented groups can try to maintain quality control by relying on careful control of their lineage procedures, and are unlikely to have any congregations larger than a small group anyway, since their training methods and rituals focus on the small group experience. Insecure individuals, on the other hand, have no simple solution other than to denounce the very idea of standards of competence.
Sam points out that (many) Neopagans "operate from an inferiority complex, behaving as underdogs, as the oppressed and persecuted." Most of us came from dysfunctional families (like many Americans). Many were badly victimized as children. Identifying ourselves with the victims of the Burning Times, ennobling ourselves (and them) as the "Hidden Children of the Goddess," and learning magic to make ourselves secretly powerful is a seductive and intoxicating combination. It's an easy step from feeling persecuted by the mainstream to feeling persecuted by other Neopagans who might, if only by example, imply that we ought to prove our competence. Once Neopaganism becomes mainstream, and it will, those of us who have been professional victims will either have to get better or else go play some other game where we can still be persecuted and oppressed (I'm working on getting better, myself).
Time: How many hours per week does it really take to serve a Neopagan congregation? The answer is directly related to the size of the congregation and to the number of roles that a given individual is required to fulfill. The average High Priest/ess with an average coven of three to seven people may put in five to ten hours per week. One that I know spends ten to fifteen hours per week running her coven of four and her study group of fifteen. Otter and Morning Glory Zell and Anodea Judith (CAW), Andras and Deirdre Arthen (ESC), Dawnie Niszsa and myself (ADF), and other leaders of large congregations routinely spend thirty, fifty, even seventy hours per week, wearing a dozen different hats in the process. Needless to say, this does make it difficult to simultaneously earn a living in the mundane world, which brings us to the next spectrum.
Money: How much is enough and how much is too much? Supporters of the idea of paying clergy in our community see the Unitarians; opponents see sleazy televangelists and the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps more importantly, opponents don't see themselves as likely to be the ones who would get paid (since none of them run groups large enough to afford salaries or to need full-time clergy).
At one point, Oriethyia sums up the anti-money argument by saying (and I'm sure that Judy and Sam agree), "to charge the serious seeker for in-depth training is absolutely contrary to witches' reality as I understand it." This begs several questions: How do we define a "serious seeker" -- someone who wants to worship with others of a like mind or someone who wants to be a leader in a congregation? What constitutes "in-depth" training in any given tradition -- and what percentage of a congregation are going to want or need it? Is there a single "witches' reality" that we all have to accept, and will those who disagree about the money question be cast into the outer darkness of not being "real" Witches?
Perhaps the most important unanswered question that her statement brings up is this: Why should the anti-money views held by some Wiccans be binding on the entire Neopagan community -- many of whom don't consider themselves Witches? After all, the Gardnerian prohibitions against receiving money for Craft training or services date only from 1959 and completely contradict what we know of historical witchcraft prior to that time. These prohibitions, originally invented to protect Gardner's followers from British bunko squads, blended with the anti-money attitudes of the hippie counterculture in the sixties and seventies, then fit even more conveniently with the yuppie greed of the eighties. Though never intended to do so, they wound up feeding the laziness and selfishness of those in the Neopagan community who were perfectly willing to take from their clergy but never to give anything in return. Yes, I know all about barter, and that many Neopagans have tried to help their clergy through non-financial means. Yet the vast majority have been perfectly willing to let their clergy survive at a much lower standard of living than they do themselves. And besides, the supermarket and the landlord aren't interested in barter -- they want cash.
Is our community poor? Not that I can see. Most of the Neopagans I've met over the years have had jobs as good as or better than those of the folks who support every other religion. It's just that American Neopagans would rather spend their discretionary income on VCRs, color TV's, stereo systems, tickets to rock concerts, science fiction novels, comic books, fandom conventions, medieval weapons, fancy robes, ceremonial jewelry, crystals, Goddess statues, cookies, ice cream, beer, and pizza -- personal pleasures that I highly approve of, provided that they are not someone's entire life.
If every Neopagan in North America were to give up one trip every month to the pizza parlor, or the movies, or the comic book store, and instead give that money to their favorite Neopagan organization, we could fund dozens of public Neopagan temples and staff them with full-time clergy. Let's be real -- we're not talking about "exploiting the ignorant masses" here -- we're discussing an exceptionally intelligent and well-educated community spending a tiny fraction of our incomes to back up what we say we believe in. If scores of counterculture businesses and thousands of individuals can give up "one percent for peace," why can't Neopagans give up "one percent for Paganism"?
A thousand politically correct Neopagan groups splattering pink light positive magic spells in all directions to "heal the Earth" won't do as much good for this planet or our people as a Neopagan cable TV program in Milwaukee, a Neopagan children's school in Toronto, a Neopagan community center in Los Angeles, a Neopagan burial society and cemetery in Kansas, a Neopagan sanctuary for battered women in Calgary, or a public Neopagan temple in Washington, D.C. All of these projects will cost money to create, staff, and maintain. Should that money come out of the pockets of a handful of visionaries and organizers, or should the entire community share the burden as well as the benefits?
Granted, as I've said elsewhere, folks who want to accomplish projects should have their acts together before they start major fund-raising efforts. Getting incorporated, writing bylaws, setting up proper financial books, and being clear about member rights and about what donors will get for their money are all relatively easy steps -- a matter of several weeks and a few hundred dollars. If a group is open and its leaders are honest and accessible, then the members will be able to easily judge whether one or more of the staff deserve salaries, based on their skills, knowledge, financial needs, and the number of hours they are working for the group. If the staff members disagree, they can simply stop providing the services that their members choose not to support.
Mind you, I'm not talking about "selling initiations" here. Charging money to administer a college-level training program is one thing; demanding cash to perform a religious ceremony to ordain a graduate of that program is something else. But let's say that a congregation is willing to pay their priest/ess to work a twenty-hour week. She or he might feel perfectly justified in asking the members to prioritize the group's activities and to drop those that would require extra hours.
The amount of salary to be paid a given individual is a whole different kettle of fish. Should full-time Neopagan priest/esses or other critical staff members be paid minimum wage? Should they be paid a salary equal to the average income of their congregation members? Should their salary be based on the regional cost of living? Should it be less if they have a spouse who has an outside income or more if the spouse helps with their congregational duties? Will living quarters, transportation, utilities, medical insurance, etc., also be provided? Should people who work thirty hours per week get a partial salary? All these questions are wrestled with by every religion that pays its clergy and other organizational staff, and every congregation comes up with different answers.
The patriarchal dualism of saying that either we must let the leaders of large public Neopagan congregations starve, juggle two careers, or live on welfare, or else we have to start buying them solid gold Rolls Royces, is garbage. Isn't it about time we started creating Neopagan policies and customs based on what works, instead of on what is traditional, politically correct, easy, comforting, or cheap? Or are we Neopagans just engaging in a more complex fantasy role-playing game than those who prefer D&D or the SCA?
Judy Harrow: The first two rounds of this forum were very stimulating. I have a great deal to say. For space reasons, I think I'd best confine myself to two topics: money and skill. Oriethyia and Sam, please don't feel neglected. This discussion will continue for a long time and in many places.
Money: Are you as bored as I am with the constant whining about how impossible it is to work a day job and still make a meaningful contribution to the Pagan renascence? Yes, an eighty hour a week Yuppie fast-track job would preclude having any kind of life beyond the job. Sometimes we do have to make some choices. So what? I've known plenty of people who work ordinary jobs, earn adequate paychecks, and still serve the Old Ways with grace and honor. Is it immodest to speak of myself?
I agree with Isaac that all of us are entitled to "a steady income, medical insurance, and a savings account." I have all three. I work a typical middle-class "grunt" job. It keeps me in food, clothing, shelter and books. Had I chosen to have children of the body, I certainly would have been able to support them decently.
The thirty or so hours a week that other panelists seem to feel they spend on religious activity sounds like a fair estimate to me, but what's the big deal? It wouldn't be any different if I were coming home from work every night to write my first novel or to practice with a band. It wouldn't be any different if I were going out every night to work on election campaigns, the local school board, or other community organization. And it wasn't any different when I was working full time and going to graduate school at night.
Wiccans have no monopoly on crowded schedules. All around me, I see most of the really involved and really interesting people maintaining similar lifestyles. Where does that time come from? That's the thirty or so hours each week that the average American spends spaced out in front of the tube. This is not what I'd call a sacrifice. Actually, I'm grateful to the Old Ones for offering me an escape from stagnation, a much more rewarding way to use my leisure.
Yes, like the other panelists, I'm also far more excited about my religious work than I am about my day job. Sure, I'd love to be a full-time priestess. Wouldn't most of us? But we can't possibly all be released from our mundane jobs, or who would contribute to the honoraria? By what standard is any of us any more entitled to that privilege than anyone else? Are we supposed to compete for the few full-time priest/ess openings? Such competitions are usually won by slick packaging rather than by real merit. Meanwhile, seeing each other as "the competition" is hardly going to foster a warm and trusting community atmosphere.
Maybe we should just all take turns, My grunt job provides me with one more good thing that Isaac did not mention -- a pension plan. I'm two-thirds of the way to retirement. Then I can be a full-time paid Pagan priestess and writer in all good conscience, because I paid my dues and earned that freedom for myself.
That's actually our own old way. In tribal times, the elders carried the culture, taught the stories and songs to the little ones while the strong young adults labored in the fields and at the looms. Isaac asks how the specialist priest/ess is going to find the time and energy to handle the dozen or more consultative phone calls each week. The answer is implied by Doreen Valiente's interview, also in FireHeart #6. She seems mindblown by the notion of Pagan old-folk homes. But only think: as we normalize along the age range and establish congregate housing facilities for our elders, we will have incomparable resource centers without doing violence to our uniqueness. It isn't even that far off.
Skill: Andras lists nine different functions that he fills as a Pagan leader. Whew! Clearly expecting all of that from a part-timer would be ridiculous. If we subject our clergy to unexamined expectations of that scope, we are setting up situation in which part-time, unpaid clergy cannot be feasible. For that reason, I believe we need to decide first whether we want full-time, salaried clergy and all that would come with it. Otherwise, we might turn our wish list into a job description for our priest/esses that commits us to changes we would never have consciously chosen,
There's another problem: I believe that Andras does all those different things well. But even if I were full-time, I sure couldn't. I have some of those talents and temperaments, but not all of them. Very few people do. As a trained Occupational Analyst (sometimes the skills learned on our day jobs are also applicable), I know that each person has a unique endowment of talents and interests and naturally does better at some specialized functions than others.
We are not all the same. We differ in specific capabilities and also in energy level and dedication. We neither need nor want to be homogenized. And so the much-discussed "priesthood of all believers" is not an appropriate concept for us; instead, we need to think about a polymorphic priesthood for a polytheistic faith, in which each of us does a few things excellently and our complementary work builds a community and a culture in which all can share with pride.
Isaac handed us a very Important key when he suggested that we look at breadth and depth of skills as separate dimensions. I think we have every right to demand of each other that we develop our skills and specialties as deeply as we possibly can. On the other hand, the expectation of great breadth foolishly ignores the reality of differential human endowment and would be impossible even if we had a fulltime, paid clergy, with all the toxic side effects.
So what, really, do we need, and in what distribution? Here are some questions that may be helpful: 1) What skills is it necessary for every single coven member to have (e.g., meditation, familiarity with Wiccan symbolic vocabulary)? 2) What skills Is it necessary for a coven leader to have (e.g., administrative ability, conflict resolution skills)? 3) What skills is it necessary to have somewhere in the coven but okay If the "specialist" is not the same person as the coven leader (e.g., song or chant leadership)? 4) What are the skills that would enrich the coven experience if they were available, but that a perfectly satisfactory coven could exist without (e.g., tool-making, knowledge of Welsh language)? 5) What are those "class 4" (nice, but not necessary) skills that are, nevertheless, so much a part of your particular coven's identity or style that, in your particular case, they are really "class 1" skills?
I've given my own entirely subjective examples for each category. Yours may differ, and that's perfectly fine. But before picking on the specifics, please stop and think for a moment how these general categories may be useful.
With those questions answered, we'd have a basis for answering several other kinds of questions. After you have listed and defined the competencies you feel are needed, try these questions: What does a person need to know or understand in order to be able to do this? What kinds of experiences, in what order, will help them gain competence and confidence in doing this? How do we evaluate when they are doing this adequately? From the answers to those questions, we can construct a need-based, skill-based training program.
We might even have here a rational basis for decisions about initiations and elevations (first degree equals competence at level one skills, third degree equals competence at level two skills) and about when it is a good idea to hive (a core group exists that, among the participants, has competence at level three skills). The clergy-team model would also serve as a burnout preventative. Sharing skills within and among covens helps to build and maintain community,
There are enough minds, hearts, and hands to do the Lady's work, if we open a space for all to contribute. Yes, we'll need some creativity and some trust. But we are Witches, so why should that come so hard? Kindred, I promise you, we don't have to settle for business as usual.